Flash Fiction – IntelliGENTS

Applied Psychology; Fitz chuckled to himself. So, this is what it had come to? Like so many psych majors, he had dreamed of helping people, of making a difference, and all the other cliches. But here he was, his first day at IntelliGENTS. A tech company, of all things. “You have to keep up with the times,” his father’s voice whispered uninvitedly in his ear. So, here he was.

Fitz approached the main door from inside the lobby and tugged, only to find it locked. Through the glass, he could see a busy secretary signalling at him in nonsensical gestures. Confused, he darted his eyes back and forth looking for an answer. Finally, he spotted a sign: Please Use Outside Buzzer.

Fitz rolled his eyes, feeling as though he had already proven his technical inaptitude and the day had yet to even begin. But why wasn’t the sign outside? It felt like a cruel trick. A hazing tradition in the boy’s club. He really, really hoped this wouldn’t be a boy’s club.

Before he could double back outside, the door swung open. The secretary looked nice enough and apologized for the confusion, but he still felt judged. Sweat was pooling at his brow.

“Lyle Fitzsimmons?”

“Yes. Fitz, please.” He held out his hand and reminded himself to shake firm and steady. At least he could do that right.

“Anabelle. I’ll pass you off to Lorraine. She can show you around”

Fitz followed the slight woman through the small entryway she called her office and through two grey doors which opened up to – well, one big open space. Welcome to the world of tech. Zero privacy. Fitz had to remind himself to breathe. It helped to think of the money; though that realization made him even more uncomfortable. Anabelle walked him to one of the first desks, where an even slighter woman was working out the kind of mathematical equation Fitz thought only existed on inaccurate TV shows about geniuses. It was intimidating – maybe more so than the conceptual boy’s club he had feared.

“Lorraine? This is Fitz. He’s our Applied Psychologist. He starts today in Personas.”

The woman ignored Anabelle for a moment, while she completed her line of gibberish. Then, she removed her glasses and stood tall. She did not look capable of smiling.

“Hello, Lorraine,” Fitz managed.

“Welcome aboard, Fitz. I head up Predictive Maintenance, of which Personas is a subsection. We’ll work side by side, occasionally.”

They shook hands and if Lorraine noticed how clammy his were, she didn’t seem to care. Anabelle hurried back to her “office,” leaving Lorraine to show Fitz around.

“There isn’t much to show. That’s the kitchen,” she pointed straight ahead. “I suggest you label your food. And, the bathrooms,” for this, she came out from behind her desk and led him towards the doors. “The gym is back there. Showers, if you need them.” She looked around as if deciding on the spot what he needed to know. He had the sense that he was very much on a need-to-know basis. “Ah, yes – Emergency exits.” She signalled to each as if she were a flight attendant. Perfectly poised, if not bored.

“Great.” He couldn’t think of anything better to say. After an awkward silence told him the tour was complete, he ventured, “and where do I sit?”

Lorraine took Fitz to the far end of the open space. All the desks they passed were empty.

“It’s a little early for us,” she explained. “Most people show up between nine and ten. I’m always here by eight, as is Ty, our Senior Backend Developer.”

They stopped at a desk where a man who looked to be in his 30s was wearing headphones and typing furiously. Lorraine waved her hands sternly in his eye line. He looked up, but did not remove his headphones.

“This is Fitz.” As Lorraine spoke, she kept direct eye contact with Ty and made quick and easy gestures with her hands. The final gesture was a Zee-shape traced in the air with her index finger, and Fitz realized she must had been spelling his name in sign language to Ty.

“Do you know ASL?” She asked casually, as if it were a common skill.

“A little,” Fitz said proudly, bringing his index finger and thumb close together. Finally, he had something to offer. He waved to Ty and smiled.

“Well, I hope you’re a quick learner. You and Ty will be working closely together to design Personas for our AI and it would be terribly inconvenient for him to have to write everything out for you.”

Fitz’s grin faded quickly as he watched her sign her words with the ease of second nature. Ty smirked at Fitz in a way that said, “sorry, but she’s right,” before returning his attention to his computer screen.  Fitz tried to remember how to sign “nice to meet you,” as if to prove something. But did the fingertips touch in “meet,” or was that in “date”? He settled for a polite nod that Ty probably didn’t see.

“You’ll sit here.”

Lorraine gestured at a desk directly behind Ty, set up so that they’d be sitting back to back. Fitz immediately realized that Ty would be able to look over at any time and see him looking up fifth-grade level ASL. He was already embarrassed.

“Go on and set up. I’ll introduce you to the UX team once they arrive. Let me know if you need anything.”

Fitz smiled and thanked Lorraine. She took off and he turned to his black computer screen.

“Here goes nothing,” he mumbled to himself.

He reached across and hit the power button on the monitor. Nothing happened. He glanced around for an accompanying tower but saw nothing. Puzzled, he picked up a closed laptop off to the side. Surely, it was somehow connected.

Two loud bangs pulled him out of his thoughts and made him look up. Ty was standing over him, slapping his desk to get his attention. When Fitz looked at him, he pointed to the coffee mug he was holding, then to Fitz, then made a gesture like pulling in. Fitz gathered this was him asking if he’d like some coffee.

“Oh, no thank you.” He remembered to pull his hand off of his chin politely when he spoke.

Ty nodded in understanding and then sauntered away towards the kitchen.

Grateful that he hadn’t been caught not understanding how computers worked, Fitz sighed in relief. With Ty gone, he started fumbling about chaotically, looking for a wire. Any wire! But he came up empty. He must have looked like a buffoon, even resorting to looking under the laptop for a secret switch. If he could just manage this one thing before Ty returned, he’d somehow know he could do this. He could have a career, designing psychological profiles for the empathetic machines of the future. And in some small way, maybe he WOULD be helping someone. But first…

Ah ha!

Out of the corner of his eye, Fitz spotted some sort of docking station, big enough for a laptop. He set the laptop up on it, and saw that it was in fact connected to the big monitor. There was even a switch! He flicked it, and everything lit up with the satisfying BONG sound of a Windows startup.

He had done it. He even had time to discreetly look up “meet” in ASL on his phone (no, the tips did not touch, that was “date”). When Ty returned, Fitz caught his eye, and signed, “Nice to meet you, by the way.” They exchanged smiles, and Ty returned a, “you too” sign, that Fitz understood perfectly.

A sudden calm washed over him.

© Shyla Fairfax-Owen

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